Tag Archives: priesthood

November 20: The King IV, Over to Pilate.

 

Nigerian carvings sourced by Rupert Greville: a question of power.

Do you ask this of your own accord or have others told you about me? This is the first question Jesus puts to Pilate (John 18:33), in answer to Pilate’s question, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ In the dialogue between Pilate and Jesus, as we said yesterday, the two men are motivated by completely opposing preoccupations. For Jesus, the dialogue is about truth and freedom. For Pilate, power is the only thing he cares about. But, the question Jesus asks places Pilate at a disadvantage already. If we are looking at power, Pilate has already lost some. He is suddenly the one who must answer a difficult question, not Jesus.

And Pilate is not prepared for it. At this stage, if Pilate had been an entirely different kind of man, he might have used Jesus’ question as a springboard to ask himself: “Do I ask this of my own accord? Do I want to understand this man and his message?” In our text, Jesus pays Pilate the compliment of suggesting that such questions might be important to Pilate. But Pilate does not budge from his habitual mind-set. Rather, he exposes his superficiality by retorting testily, ‘Am I a Jew?’ Here, Pilate implies that it should be obvious to Jesus that he has no spiritual leanings towards Judaism or any of its tenets. He goes on to attempt to regain the upper hand in the conversation by declaring, ‘It is your own people and the chief priests who have handed you over to me.’

Pilate is feeling the loss of control that comes when a situation does not make sense. He is flummoxed. Jesus has been handed over by members of his own religious group. Why? Like a sniffer dog looking for drugs, Pilate gets a whiff of a level of power in Jesus that he cannot quite identify. Clearly, Jesus has some power or he would not be so threatening to the chief priests. He demands that Jesus explain: ‘What have you done?’ he asks.

Jesus cuts to the only thing Pilate could possibly care about. He doesn’t answer Pilate’s question by talking about his actions, as Pilate seems to want, but about his authority. He talks about his ‘kingdom’. He says: ‘Mine is not a kingdom of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my men would have fought to prevent my being surrendered to the Jews. As it is, my kingdom does not belong here.’ Jesus uses the word ‘kingdom’ three times in this brief passage. I imagine Jesus pronounced the word with that emphasis one gives to an expression being employed in a way that differs from its common usage. This subtlety was lost on Pilate. ‘My kingdom’ is a phrase Pilate understands in one way only: worldly power, riches, domination, influence, kudos. He takes note, and questions Jesus again, and surely with a sharp edge of incredulity: ‘So then! You are a king???’ [emphasis mine].

Pilate is not listening. Jesus is trying to say the exact opposite, that he is not a king in Pilate’s sense of the word, that the word ‘kingdom,’ in Pilate’s sense, does not apply to him, for he has no wealth, no soldiers, no public support of any kind. He is trying to say to Pilate that his ‘kingdom’, if the word must be used, does not operate according to the standards of this world, and it is no threat to Pilate.

But something else is being said, also. While Jesus wants Pilate to know that he desires nothing that Pilate has, Jesus is not afraid to imply that he is lord of a realm, a ‘kingdom’. It exists on a deeper level than the stage of worldly success and domination. But Pilate is out of his depth and doesn’t get it at all. Jesus is too subtle for him, too deep – and too brilliant. This world, this stage of success and domination, is the only world Pilate knows. Pilate is, again, feeling a loss of control over the whole dialogue.

He is trying to cover his confusion now, I suspect. He has no wish to appear ridiculous and precipitate to the public in his handling of this awkward situation. It is still not clear to him what the real issues are. His reputation will not be enhanced by the passing of an unjust sentence – he knows this. So, the question of Jesus’ identity needs to be answered. Is Jesus really the usurper that the Jews are making him out to be?

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18 November: The King II, Pilate and Jesus Meet.

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We are preparing to look at the relationship between Jesus and Pontius Pilate with a view to exploring the theme of power as it emerges in the relevant texts of the Gospel of John (18:1 – 19:22). I would like first to summarise the passage immediately preceding the dialogue between Pilate and Jesus. In John 18: 1-11we are told that Jesus had been arrested in the evening by a cohort from the Roman garrison, and a group of guards sent by the chief priests and Pharisees, all with weapons and torches – essentially, a lynch-mob. Jesus handles the mob with courtesy, cooperation and courage. Nonetheless, they bind him and, no doubt, shove and frog-march him to the palace of Annas, the high priest. Annas, probably realising after a short exchange with Jesus that he was out of his depth and could not possibly win in a dialogue with him, sends Jesus on to the next questioner. This will be Pontius Pilate and Jesus is sent to the Praetorium – his palace.

Pilate does not meet with Jesus until he meets Jesus’ captors – a rather unsatisfying encounter, I suspect, as far as Pilate is concerned. Jews were not allowed to go into the inner court of the Praetorium on pain of incurring ritual impurity, so Pilate must meet Jesus’ captors outside – a concession which must have rankled. But he complies, and questions them about the reasons for Jesus’ arrest. According to the text, they claim at this point simply that Jesus is a criminal and deserves death, and that they are not allowed by their religion to pass the death sentence. They do not specify what Jesus has done to deserve it (see Jn. 18:28-32). Pilate, none the wiser for this exchange, must now question Jesus about the reasons for his arrest.

Pilate leaves them, returns to the inner court of the Praetorium, summons Jesus and begins a highly revealing exchange with him. We see here two men who could not possibly have been more different. Pilate, with an abruptness suggesting that he is an important, busy man, asks Jesus the only question that could have any real interest to him, or any bearing on his judgement of Jesus: ‘Are you the king of the Jews?

Immediately, we see that the issue for Pilate is power, but he must hope that Jesus’ power is a trumped up affair, threatening to no one. He had probably encountered mad prophets before – they were not unusual in the Judea of Pilate’s day. So, Pilate’s question would, Pilate hopes, set such a prophet up to expose himself as a rant-and-rave religious fanatic. A wild-eyed diatribe on Jesus’ part would be most useful to Pilate and enable him quickly to dismiss Jesus as long-winded but essentially harmless; then Pilate would be free to move on to the more important business of the day. It is easy to imagine the slightly mocking tone of voice in which Pilate asked his question, much as one might use to a rather ill-behaved child, perhaps, or to someone whom one has already mentally pigeon-holed as not worth taking seriously. Pilate feels secure, powerful at this stage. Accordingly, his treatment of Jesus belittles him. We will examine Jesus’ response to this tomorrow.

Pilate went out to the street to meet the Jewish leaders.

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13 August, V is for Verulam: hospitality and its unlikely consequences

Verulam is the other, old name for Saint Alban’s, a city about 30 km to the north of London. Its Cathedral was founded as an abbey in Norman times, and owes its survival to eventually become a cathedral to the people of the town who bought the building in 1553, following the dissolution of the monasteries.

Verulam, or Verulamium had been a Roman city, with baths, theatres, a market and barracks. Alban lived there in the time of Emperor Diocletian, the great persecutor of Christians. He himself was not a Christian but his lodger Amphibalus was a Christian priest. Alban saw how he lived and prayed and was moving towards his own conversion when the authorities came to arrest his guest. By swapping clothes with Alban, Amphibalus escaped.

Alban, though, was arrested and brought before the magistrate who urged him to sacrifice to the Roman gods by burning a few grains of incense, but he refused and declared to the magistrate that he was a Christian, even though he had not been baptised. He was executed in Amphibalus’ place, the first known martyr of England.

Not so long ago I was talking to a parish priest who said that he had been in his parish for years and not been invited to a meal with a family – then two came for the same evening! We don’t need to fear the treatment Saint Alban received if we invite a priest to our homes, so go ahead and ask them round. Just don’t serve them meat on a Friday!

Przemyslaw Sakrajda—Martyrdom of St Alban, window in St Alban’s Cathedral.

 

 

 

 

 

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22 June: Overheard on a journey

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I had been visiting friends a long way from home, and took a train from Western Ontario back towards Montreal and my plane which I almost missed, but that’s another story.

A conference was finishing in one of the towns we passed through, a conference for church ministers. Two, an older man and one as fresh-faced as I was at the time, came and sat behind me. They would be crossing the border back to the US, changing half an hour later to get their plane or connecting train, so I did not hear the whole of their conversation.

I wished, and still wish I hadn’t heard any of it at all, but occasionally it comes back to haunt me. My apologies to any reader who thinks I ought to have kept it to myself.

I can well understand that the ministers would not be talking Scripture or Theology or Hospital Visiting at the end of the conference, unless there had been a truly inspirational speaker! Sport, family, holidays, gardening, I could understand. But what I could not help overhearing would have put me off if I had been one of their flock or someone inching towards faith.

The older man was congratulating his colleague on his appointment to a church that he knew, but rather than advising him about the congregation, the town and their strengths and needs, it was a monologue on clerical ambition and how to fulfil it. ‘In five years’ time you should be looking to be in a much larger, more prosperous church’, the younger man was told. Making a name for himself in the local newspaper (this was 40 years ago), driving newer, larger cars, the message seemed to be that the prosperity gospel was to be lived by example.

I could not believe my ears; this man clearly felt he was safe on the train, nobody could hear him. Did he believe that Jesus preferred his gospel to that of Saint Francis, or a poor Baptist preacher, supporting a church in a run down suburb or rural settlement? Was he idealistic as a young man? Where did his zeal go?

Lord, send us priests and holy priests!

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29 March. Before the Cross XV: at the bedside of good Pope John XXIII

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The words that follow were attributed to Good Pope John XXIII as he lay dying, by his secretary, Monsignor  (later Cardinal) Loris Capovilla in his memoir ‘The heart and mind of John XXIII’, London, Corgi, 1966. We found a few copies for sale on-line. The shadowy Crucifix above is in the dark chapel of Saint Nicholas at Canterbury Cathedral. During the Second World War the future pope was Apostolic Delegate to Turkey, where Saint Nicholas was Bishop of Myra (Dembre). I imagined Pope John seeing such a shadowy cross during the long nights when he lay dying but later read that it was a white Crucifix. The one below hangs in Christina Chase’s room; here she is holding it for us to see clearly.

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This bed is an altar, and an altar wants a victim. I am ready. I offer my life for the Church, the continuation of the Ecumenical Council, for peace in the world, for the union of Christians.

The secret of my priesthood lies in the crucifix I wanted in front of my bed.

john xxiii Christ looks at me, and I speak to him. In our long and frequent conversations during the night, the thought of the world’s redemption has seemed to me more urgent than ever. ‘And other sheep I have, that are not of this fold.’ (John !0:16).

Those outstretched arms tell us he died for everyone, for everyone. No one is refused his love, his forgiveness. But especially that ‘they may be one’ he entrusted to his church. The sanctification of the clergy and of the people, the union of Christians, the world’s conversion are therefore urgent responsibilities of the Pope and of the bishops.

I had the great fortune to be born in a modest, poor Christian family that feared God, and the fortune to be called to serve. Since childhood I have thought of nothing else, or desired nothing else.

for my own part, I do not think I have offended anyone, but if I have, I ask pardon. And you, if you know someone who has not been edified by my behaviour, ask him to tolerate me and to forgive.

In this last hour, I feel calm and certain that my Lord, through his mercy, will not reject me. Unworthy though I be, I wanted only to serve him … and bear witness to the Gospel. …

My days on earth are ending, but Christ lives, and the Church continues her task. The souls, the souls, ‘may they be one, may they be one.’

 

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October 9: Jesus was a servant for others

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A Missionary of Africa Ordained in Ghana

by Patrick Kadima, stagiaire from South Africa. (A stagiare is a student gaining experience of missionary life before completing his academic studues for ordination.)

I include this story here with L’Arche postings because Bishop Matthew in Ghana uses the same Gospel story of the washing of feet as James of L’Arche Kent did on 29 August. L’Arche is a life of joyful service, so is the priesthood; L’Arche is a life in an international community, so is life as a Missionary of Africa.

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The priestly ordination of Paul Donnibe took place at St. Mary Help of Christians Parish, Sunyani on Saturday 22nd July 2017, by His Lordship, Most Rev Matthew Gyamfi, Bishop of Sunyani Diocese. People were arriving from different parts of the country and across the border with Burkina Faso to witness the event.

The Bishop welcomed the whole assembly. He emphasised the importance of the day and the reason of the gathering. While congratulating our Brother Paul, the Bishop mentioned that the whole parish and the diocese of Sunyani were proud of him. Paul is the first fruit of the Missionaries of Africa in the diocese. In a manner of advising Paul, the Bishop pinpointed in his homily the good examples Jesus sets for us. He reminded Paul that Jesus was a servant for others illustrated by the washing of his disciples’ feet. The priesthood is a journey of service for others just like our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

The bishop emphasised that a good priest finds joy in his duties. Since God loves a cheerful giver, if our brother Paul, as a priest, gives himself to God’s service by doing what a priest is supposed to do, indeed he will be a joyful servant of God in his priesthood. The bishop ended his homily by reminding our brother that he was also sent as a missionary to be an ambassador of the diocese of Sunyani wherever he will be.

After Mass we were invited for some refreshment at the parish house. We had supper together with Paul’s family and some parishioners. On Sunday, Paul said his first thanksgiving Mass at 7h00. After it, we took the road to go back home. It was good to be part of Paul’s ordination and very interesting to see how people celebrate life.

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14 June: An Inconsiderable unit

Palm Sunday Lumimba 2015 05

As part  of a short season of reflections on the Eucharist, here is a paragraph on the role of the priest at Mass from Monsignor Ronald Knox’s ‘The Mass in Slow Motion, Sheed & Ward, 1948, pp xv-xvi. Photo – Missionaries of Africa. 

In case we were in danger of feeling self-important about the tremendous office we hold, the tremendous business we are transacting, we reflect that the man who stands here is only a priest of the universal Church; at the moment when he consecrates, he is the particular unit in whom her prayer is being manifested. He is the particular sentry who happens to be posted at this particular spot, under orders from his Bishop. He must think of himself as an inconsiderable unit of this great army whose whole cause now, all the multitudinous needs of the Church of God, he proceeds to recommend to God.

Let us pray for all priests of the Universal Church in all her Rites and Communions, that they may be ever faithful to the tremendous business entrusted to them.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

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Interruption: Remembering Mrs O

I was just reading David’s story of Hilda, the Queen of our Close, and could not help remembering Mrs O, a neighbour of ours, as eccentric as Hilda; her funeral takes place today.

Mrs O remembered birthdays in our family and rejoiced in watching our children grow into adulthood. She herself was always, as long as we knew her, in fragile health, mentally; this worsened after a fall that left her much less mobile than she had been. Although she had been offered an intensive course of physiotherapy, she never took it up; her self-confidence withered. It was sad to see her deteriorate, but looking after her garden gave me reason to see her day by day. Sometimes she would accept produce from the garden and revive some of the cooking skills which she had been proud of.

We missed her this Christmas for she had been with us for the festive meal for years. Instead we could toast her in soup from her garden – Jerusalem artichoke and leek, a real discovery!

Her end was peaceful; for the last year she had been in an excellent care home, and accepted their care, but was taken to hospital with what turned out to be her final illness. Providentially, a good friend was with her when she died. Chaplains had visited her in the care home and in the hospital.

I am glad we knew Mrs O, that our children grew up appreciating her qualities as well as her frailties. I have no doubt at all that one of the many rooms in the Father’s House had her name on it!

R.I.P.

And this morning, as the last of the rain drifted away, there was a rainbow arched over her (earthly) home: a sure sign!

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by | January 6, 2016 · 11:46

Plain Speaking

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Giovanni Gaureschi

I used to visit an old lady who was a devout Catholic but who felt she was not a very good person because she found it so hard to confess her sins. She felt that confession and  indeed any form of prayer had to be conducted in more or less formal language and the idea of using everyday language was quite beyond her ken. So I lent her one of the novels of the renowned Italian author, Giovanni Guareschi which recounts in a very light hearted but nevertheless, heartfelt manner, the endeavours of a priest, Don Camillo, in a small provincial town to renew the faith of his somewhat  errant flock and fend off the plots of the Communist Mayor, Peppone. All the time the Priest talks to God with great faith but in ordinary, everyday language.

My little old lady sometimes laughed at these tales. But she told me that they did not really resolve her problem because all the characters were Italian and she was of Irish descent. “Well that’s no matter,” said I, “for I am of Welsh descent but we are all children of God.” She replied,” I don’t care what heathen tribe you come from as long as you give the English a good thumping in the ‘Six Nations’ and one day perhaps even the Italians will beat them too, since their morals are improving according to your book and I will speak to God about this”.

DBP.

http://www.mondoguareschi.com/gallery/guareschi/gua_gall_download/image public domain

found  at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giovannino_Guareschi#/media/File:Giovannino_Guareschi.jpg

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